Australia Test captain Tim Paine believes the behavioural changes forced upon the national team by the Newlands scandal have flowed down into the rest of the system over the course of the past two years, with incidents involving James Pattinson and Marcus Stoinis last summer the exceptions that prove the new rule.
Pattinson in the Sheffield Shield and Stoinis in the Big Bash League were both sanctioned by Cricket Australia for obscene personal abuse of Cameron Gannon and Kane Richardson respectively. In each instance the language used was homophobic in nature, in an unseemly reminder of the sorts of words that have been thrown around Australian cricket circles as a means of “trying to get into players’ heads” for decades.
As depicted in the documentary series The Test, Paine and Australia’s coach Justin Langer had led the work to ensure the national team’s language on the field was dialled down from what had previously been openly abusive levels to something less obscene without losing all its hostility – banter being the term most often used to describe it. Reflecting on the period covered by the documentary, Paine said he had seen a perceptible change in the language uttered on the field in domestic matches as well as Tests.
“You’re looking at one or two very isolated instances, one with Patto and one in the Big Bash,” Paine said. “So I think in general the behaviour throughout cricket in Australia has improved. I think the players have done a great job of that. It’s still a really competitive environment where you’re going at each other… but I think certainly in the time I’ve been in cricket, the banter or abuse level has certainly changed.
“I think that’s a good thing, I think that’s what we want, I think it then allows us to have things like the stump mics turned up and we’re able to take fans and spectators even closer to the game. Hopefully that behavioural trend can continue. I think it’s just been a change in mindset. I think those combative players still play the way they play, they’ve had to think a little bit more about how they go about it or what they actually say.
“I think there’s still plenty of chat on cricket fields that I’ve been on, there’s certainly still ways of getting in the contest and trying to get into players’ heads without flat-out abusing them, and I think that’s been shown by the Australian men’s team in particular.”
One element of the Australian team that was influenced indirectly by the documentary was the development of honest feedback sessions among players and coaches. The series charts how Langer’s harsh words were not always well received, culminating in a Christmas/New Year period during the India Test series in 2018-19 in which the players and the coach appeared equally unhappy with how their relationship was progressing.
However, things evolved with increasing team success, resulting in the ability to debrief the traumas of the Headingley Test in a way that was effective enough to have the team move on in time to put in an Ashes-clinching performance for the next Test at Old Trafford – the climax of the documentary.
“I think having him there, as we’ve said a few times, once you sort of got used to it, the first week or so, we literally went ahead as we normally would,” Paine said of the documentary’s prime cinematographer Andre Mauger. “We didn’t change any meeting set-ups or any discussions that we would normally have because the documentary was being made. It was business as usual. That’s what we wanted it to be, with probably the one exception being the one after Headingley, which was something we hadn’t done. And again, it wasn’t done for the documentary.
“That was done because JL thought it was something we needed to do, which was to address the mistakes, speak about it in front of each other and come up with ways with which we could move forward and win that next Test in Manchester. So that was slightly different to the norm, I suppose. Because normally you do look at a lot of footage by yourselves as cricketers, not so much in front of the team and going forward as much as we did. So that was different but certainly now it’s opened our eyes to different ways of going about it.
“We are certainly a lot more open and honest and we can do it a lot quicker as well. That’s one of the great things to come out of that Headingley Test match and the way we addressed it afterwards.”
As for the reception to the documentary, which has included the England captain Joe Root admitting he has watched it while kept at home by the coronavirus pandemic, Paine said it had been rewarding to see audiences respond favourably to the Austrlaian team’s decision to join the ranks of those sporting teams documented in similar ways elsewhere.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to whether I’m grabbing a coffee down the road, whether I was playing the last few games for my grade club, University or spoken to family and friends who are that connected to cricket, everyone that I’ve spoken to has loved the insight into the Australian cricket team,” he said. “It’s always been probably a change-room that you don’t get to see a lot of. So I think the documentary and the broadcast rights we got now with the two TV stations has sort of opened up the dressing-room and given a real insight into how we go about things.
“I think that’s been a great thing for the game, it’s been a great thing for our team and it’s been a great thing for the Australian public and potentially opposition captains like Joe Root to have a bit of a look. All the feedback that I’ve been given so far has been really positive and hopefully that continues. Hopefully people enjoyed it. That was the idea.
“We are no different. We are sports fans as cricketers and I love watching ESPN [films] on NFL or baseball teams for a number of years now. So It’s great that cricket’s sort of moved forward and done what we did with the documentary.”